The Denver Nuggets’ 2016-2017 season has been quite a ride They’ve experienced the highest of highs, the lowest of lows, and, like a basketball that goes up and down upon each dribble, they continually trade off big wins, with tough losses. But as the season ticks under 25 games remaining, it’s time to take that dribble and go to the basket, to define the entire season, with the next 10 games.

The Nuggets will play seven of their next 10 games at home, where they’ve won nine of their last 11. This home cooking will be relied upon as competitive teams come to the Pepsi Center: the Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Clippers, Washington Wizards, Boston Celtics and Houston Rockets (just to name a few). The Nuggets currently sit in the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference playoff race, just one game ahead of the Sacramento Kings.

The next 10 games are season-defining. Anything under .500 basketball could have them losing their playoff spot, perhaps for good, as they have a tough road stretch incoming later in the season. A strong 7-8 wins in the next 10 games? They’ll remain in the driver’s seat for the final spot in the postseason and build a lot of buzz with the city of Denver.

The distractions of the trade deadline have come and gone and it’s time for them to prove that their newfound young core, along with their veteran presence, can hold their own against some of the best in the NBA. Denver will be on the road for a seven game out of nine stretch at the end of March/beginning of April, so collecting wins now is crucial for the Nuggets, who are 10-19 on the road this year.

Denver sits between an awkward rock and a hard place when it comes to the see-saw of success in the NBA. Good enough to sniff the smell of playoffs, but close enough to an intriguing NBA strategy of tanking the rest of the season, in an attempt to win the NBA draft lottery and build for the future. Generally you want to be one or the other in the NBA, but not in-between.

One press conference by head coach Mike Malone and a quick jaunt around the locker room will provide the answer. This team isn’t quitting, and they will have no part in an intentional tank. Why should they? At the rate that they’re going, they will find themselves staring at percentages that look much like the Milwaukee Bucks had last year and they picked 10th. The chances of winning the lottery are bad at this point. The team is simply better than that. A two percent chance at hitting the lottery over playoff experience and energy moving into next year, isn’t a trade off I’d like to see.

The value of playoff experience is priceless for this young core, mainly for Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, who appear to be franchise cornerstones for the Nuggets. Trading Jusuf Nurkic to Portland for Mason Plumlee, was a ‘build around Jokic’ move. Scoffing at the idea of dealing their young guard in Murray, even in a package that would’ve netted them star Indiana Pacers forward Paul George, signals Murray is very much a part of the future. These two are here to stay, and will be built around by general manager Tim Connelly.

While the chances of the Denver Nuggets achieving deep postseason success seem less likely than the earth actually being confirmed as flat, a playoff appearance would put a firm stamp on real progress for Denver. Currently, the Nuggets are on pace for 36 wins, and for as many nice stories that have come out of the Pepsi Center this year, that would only be a three-win improvement from last year.

Making the playoffs solidifies clear real progress moving into next season. A step forward to build on. It’ll pump excitement into the city, and bring an electric energy that fans haven’t experienced here in Denver when it comes to basketball in a long time.

A four-game series against the Golden State Warriors seems like a buzzsaw, sure. But you have to walk before you run. Rome wasn’t built in a day and championship basketball in Denver won’t be either.

The next 10 games will define the entire season. Miss the playoffs with a mid-30 win season? And the campaign overall will be looked at as ‘just another season.’ The Nuggets are in the driver’s seat to keep that label off this year’s team and these next 10 games are pivotal.

Coach Malone has said time and time again, that they play an ‘exciting’ brand of basketball. If they want to showcase this exciting brand in the postseason. Their time is now.